NEW YORK In a national battle of turntablists Saturday night, a Southern spinner called Klever put enough clever moves on a dozen other top U.S. DJs to win a spot at next month's DMC world mixing championships in London.
Josh Winkler, 23, from Brookhaven, Ga., looked and sounded like a country boy with his baseball cap sporting an Atlanta Braves "A." But behind a pair of Technics turntables as Klever, he was all about hip-hop. His mix of tracks from Gang Starr and DJ Swamp drew him the night's highest score.
The DMC U.S. Finals, a 17-year-old event of the Disco Mix Club turntablist federation, brought together winners of regional DJ competitions to vie for a new set of gear and a plane ticket to England for the Sept. 2324 world championships.
Last year's U.S. champion, P-Trix, placed second this time around. He was followed by Jay Slim (Jason Lee of Cerritos, Calif.), who stacked two records on one turntable to speed his transitions and worked the beat from Prince's "Erotic City" (RealAudio excerpt) into his hip-hop mix.
But smooth flow coupled with strong scratching and beat juggling sealed the win for Klever. "You're looking for a well-rounded DJ," said judge Nick Caldarone. "It's not any one thing."
DJ Red Alert, who served as MC at the competition at Irving Plaza, gave each turntablist six minutes to spin after a brief warm-up. While some DJs complained of skips and others of a hum in the PA system, all of their sets went off without noticeable glitches.
The mysterious DJ Mysterio propped up his turntables at an angle while spinning a remix of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" (RealAudio excerpt). He even scratched a record in the air without using a turntable. The crowd roared its approval, but the Plainfield, N.J., DJ left quietly before the awards ceremony.
Syosset, N.Y.'s DJ Tragik (Paul Del Vecchio) said he liked spinning in front of a hometown crowd. "You have to show that you're confident in your stuff," he said after a performance in which he gestured at the other DJs with his middle finger.
Representing Vallejo, Calif., Snayk Eyez (Dan Magsino) threw '70s and '80s pop stars Hall & Oates into his set. "I try to come out with a not-very-good song and make it a good song try to flip it differently," he said. At the end of his six-minute set, the 25-year-old DJ sprayed the audience with purple silly string.
Mixing With Greatness
After the competition, several pioneering DJs were inducted into the DMC Hall of Fame. "Without the old, there can never be the new," said inductee Mix Master Ice, who counts scratching on UTFO's 1984 club hit "Roxanne, Roxanne" as a highlight of his 20-year career.
Marley Marl, who won a Grammy for producing LL Cool J's 1990 hit "Mama Said Knock You Out," said he didn't know he'd be making history when he brought digital sampling into hip-hop. "We was just having fun," Marl said.
Also inducted were DJ Jazzy Jeff, who rose to fame spinning for Will Smith; hip-hop producer and radio DJ Jazzy Jay; and Steve Dee, who scratched for everyone from Doug E. Fresh to Michael Jackson.
"We always should respect the ancestors so we know where we're at now, and we know where we be going for the future," said Afrika Bambaataa, who dropped by the competition after spinning a set of his own in a Bronx housing project.
Bambaataa, who rose to fame after sampling Kraftwerk's 1977 "Trans-Europe Express" on his 1982 "Planet Rock," said he thinks vinyl will stick around for a while.
"They tried to stop it. They tried to tell you nobody wants turntables no more," Bambaataa said. "And it was up to the power of the DJ culture that kept vinyl out there."
Spinning A Rival Champion
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the International Turntable Federation staged its fifth annual competition for U.S. supremacy. Though defending champion Relm missed the event because of a late flight, a crowd of 1,300 at San Francisco's Maritime Hall watched the competitors narrow down to a battle between New York's Excess and L.A.'s Tropik.
After a heated duel, Excess came away with the title and will head to the 2000 ITF World Championships this November in L.A., said ITF Vice President Pasha Kamber.